Toward autonomous, Net Zero operations

June 17, 2022

In this episode of Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast, Keith Larson is joined by John Colpo, global manager, marketing strategy, oil & gas, at Honeywell Process Solutions. In their discussion recorded live from Honeywell Users Group Americas 2022, they discuss the synergies between the pursuit of sustainability goals and autonomous operations.


Keith Larson: Today's process industries face an intersection of capital-competitive demands. On the one hand Net Zero carbon-emission goals are demanding out-of-the-box process innovations that go beyond incremental gains and operational efficiency. And on the other, industry is pushing hard to implement digital solutions that improve economic performance, while better leveraging the capabilities of a thinly stretched aging workforce, even as competitive pressures intensify. But do operating companies have to choose between environmental sustainability and economic viability?

Hello, this is Keith Larsen, editor of Control magazine and, and thank you for joining me for another Solution Spotlight edition of the Control Amplified podcast, today sponsored by Honeywell Process Solutions. Today I'm pleased to say we're coming to you live from HUG America's 2022 Honeywell's annual user group meeting, being held this year in Orlando. Joining me today to talk about the synergies between the pursuit of sustainability goals and autonomous operations is John Colpo, global manager, marketing strategy, for Honeywell oil and gas business.

Welcome, John. Thanks for the hospitality here in Orlando and taking the time out of very busy schedule to share your insights with us.

John Colpo: It's a pleasure. It's been busy.

Larson: Are you adjusting to the time zone change from Tasmania?

Colpo: Oh, not quite yet. Crashing yeah, come back alive. But it's been up and down, but I had a couple of hours sleep last night. So, I think we can have a bit of fun.

Larson: You'll just be getting it when you have to when it's time to go back.

Colpo: Right. Exactly.

Larson: We totally screwed you up.

Colpo: We've had a great turnout at our first face-to-face group since the pandemic, actually. It's been good to properly reconnect with everyone. There's a lot happening in the world at the moment on the discussions we've had with our customers have been amazing.

Larson: That's great. Yeah, yeah, I mean, it's it's a real, it feels really great to be back in person because the connection is just so much more visceral and so more meaningful than it is over Zoom or GoToMeeting, or Teams, worse yet. I'm sorry, sorry, Microsoft.

Anyway, let's dive right in here. You know, many oil and gas companies have already committed themselves to, really, roadmaps designed to bring about Net Zero operation in years to come. And those that haven't yet likely will soon, but oil and gas operators, especially, are leaders in implementing technologies and work process to really advance autonomy and economic performance in their operations. In what ways do you see these initiatives really building upon and synergizing with each other?

Colpo: So, many of our upstream and downstream customers have committed to certain goals, as we say, and they're sharing with us at this event the complexities of making progress and the time that they've spent had been set out generally by the board, and some strategies they're finding more dependent on external factors. So, for example, we may need markets to develop for new low-carbon products like green hydrogen, for example. Or perhaps we may need to wait for permanent CO2 sequestration. So, these external dependencies make it hard to progress in every capacity. But there is some low-hanging fruit that we've discovered that might be a bit interesting and provide some positive return on investment right up front.

Larson: You know, I think one of the things that I've seen is that while process operations are necessarily managed in near real time.

Colpo: Yeah.

Larson: ESG is almost done, like in the rearview mirror by the month or by the quarter at best. What steps are being taken to unify these management silos and establish more common reference going between the automation systems and the ESG Fedloan for reporting perimeter?

Colpo: Yeah, yeah, I think that's quite normal. I guess, the silo effect in organizations is quite well known with each department, especially now stream with board setting prioritize greenhouse gas abatement and ESG strategies, which requires significant capital investment, so these have been prioritized over existing investments around say, operational excellence or ultimate recovery, and they're sort of bumping against each other. I've talked to a lot of upstream customers and most have found a good approach which supports the integration of initiatives that may have otherwise been mutually exclusive or overlap. And that's to have a lean ESG department. That department set strategy sets targets, designs the technical concepts and benchmarks progress to be made, but leaves engineering and execution to the individual assets. That way if several stakeholders need a specific OT or IT, let's say, industry needs greenhouse-gas sensing around equipment and the maintenance department wide CHM sensing on equipment and operations needs sensing and actuators in the equipment, then all this can be implemented in a unified and integrated and fault tolerant system. So, a great example of this new type of sensing system is the versatile transmitters that we just announced at user group, and that are unbelievably easy to locate, install and support sensing for operations and the HM, with more to come. But I can't talk about that yet.

Larson: I did see Jason demonstrating the fugitive emission sensors, the wireless devices, is that more of what you're talking about? Or is that a little bit?

Colpo: That is exactly what I'm not going to talk about.

Larson: Well, yeah. Well, he did say they were coming later this year. So, he's already told 1000 people from the stage, so I guess I can still enter that contest. But yeah, that's okay. You can toe the company line. But I think that that's tremendous, because I think fugitive emissions is one of the things that that needs more attention. Because when you think of methane having, you know, an order of magnitude more effect than carbon dioxide as a as a greenhouse gas, it's a critical thing to get up to 100 years.

Colpo: Oh, yeah.

Larson: And it persists longer as well.

Colpo: That's true.

Larson: So, we'll look forward to more information on that, when it's when it's ready later this year is I understand soon.

Colpo: It'll be soon. 

Larson: So, that sounds great. Well, it sounds sorry, I didn't mean to pull the covers off too far. But the Jason did it ahead of you, so I think we'll be okay. What are the strategies and best practices are oil and gas companies using to better manage their performance and director investments against these twin objectives? 

Colpo: Yeah, well, I'll return to the point I made about external dependencies. So, any progress requires investment and then investment needs to be carried by the company's cash flow. So, various strategies make sense only when somewhere along the timeline that the board has set up for each of the maintenance milestones, so not everything can be done at once. It will be impossible and risky. So, we have to ask ourselves what should be done first? So, it's well-known that there are four main methods of abating greenhouse gases, and these are based on the eliminate, reduce, substitute and compensate method. So, I'm going to apologize, this is going to be a little bit hard to find a lot of detail here, but I assure everyone it's worth knowing.

The first is monitoring, compliance, and mitigating those fugitive emissions and reducing unplanned flaring as much as possible. So, that's all the eliminate, then you've got optimization and electrification. We'll talk more about those later, and they solve the reduce, includes transitioning your products and fuel imports, soo transitioning to biofuels, renewable products, and things like renewable hydrogen, and also includes carbon capture and sequestration. So, compensation, the last one, that's more about carbon credits and the capture of CO2. So, my style is optimization is the low-hanging fruit in this sort of tree of strategies. So optimization, or as we prefer to look at industrial autonomous, is itself a large topic, but it has many components that can be implemented much sooner than some of the less dependencies and provides positive cash flow in the shortest time. So, as you were saying, Keith, that can help provide some of the capital as required for the other levers, we will be implementing later on the program.

Larson: That makes sense. Look, turning from the sustainability to the more fully autonomous that you were talking about, the industrial autonomous. You've described kind of, while we're talking about sets of fours, there's a four step maturity model on autonomy.

Colpo: Five.

Larson: Is it five? Okay, maybe there's five. Alright, now we got all kinds of surprises. Can you kind of walk us through those five stages of maturity, and how an oil and gas companies maturity on that scale can really correlate with improved sustainability performance and not be mutually exclusive?

Colpo: Yeah. Yeah. Love to so. So, our maturity model for autonomous operations was proposed by Jason, our CTO. We have been using it to help us and to help our customers better focus our efforts. And so, it does have five layers. So, it's a big topic, I'm finding it a big challenge to simplify it.

Larson: we're only we're only covering the the vague outlines  of it at this point, I'm afraid. We'll do five more on these.

Colpo: I'll come back. We won't cover it now, and I'll certainly do my best here.

So, we have five layers. So, the first, and we have to acknowledge that most upstream players are at three  or above, and many of the elements of these five are implemented by many of our customers, so no judgment, it's just a, it's just a way of labeling and focusing our efforts.

Larson: Sure. It's a journey, different people are at different corners in the road, but this is the full road.

Colpo: You can be implementing elements of the top one and not done all of the elements of the third layer. Anyway, it's good to have a framework, so you can sort of tick off all of the opportunities and work out some of these interdependence.

Larson: Absolutely.

Colpo: So, the first layer, controlled and optimized. So, this is where every item of equipment on the process is fully optimized, fully automated I should say, and more progressive techniques, like advanced programming model base and advanced process control Juno's implemented, is brilliant at stabilizing processes, equipment and improving production, while at the same time, and here's where it starts to count for greenhouse gas abatement. It reduces inputs like energy, so reducing fuel that's consumed, less fuel consumed, less goes out the exhaust and into the atmosphere. A few more techniques, the advanced alarm management, just keeping that asset, that working asset, controlled and operated safely and in an optimized way. So, say that everyone's at that level, but a lot of players in the upstream that operating in that.

So, moving on to then the next. Second, so intelligent operations. So, here we begin to look at lowering cost of operations. And so one of the biggest payrolls in an upstream organization is, for example, the maintenance department. You know, they're often not accused, let's say the, they're often found, find themselves doing work that results in some no action. So, for example, my daughter is learning to drive now, I described to her that her tires need to be checked every week. And if she doesn't check her tires, the pressure will go down, and she'll wear out that tire, and she'll need to pay for a new tire. So, when she goes to that tire every week to check the pressure, and finds that the pressure is okay, she's annoyed, why I have to do it?  Right, because I made her do it. That's what maintenance is like, all this sort of legacy, preventative maintenance, periodic maintenance that results in a lot of unnecessary work.

Larson: Sort of going through the motions, or at least that's how technicians feel. Not really doing anything beneficial.

Colpo: So, predictive maintenance. So where you operate the equipment to the point where it's just about to fail. Something's just about to go wrong, so you've gotten the maximum use out of that metal and electronics, everything. So, how do you how do you find that point in time that now's the right time to maybe stop that equipment, switch over to the standby, get someone out there to fix it up. So, that's preventative maintenance, so you need a bit of a bit of IT, a bit of a bit of know-how to do that.

So, we've got a great in for JPN and these new Apollo transmitters for example, we've got a great EHM technique enables upstream customer or everyone, to transform maintenance to preventive maintenance, sort of condition based maintenance is another name for it. Anyway, that's just one example, I'm sure and I need to be more comprehensive.

Larson: I think one of the interesting things about some of those preventive maintenance strategies, sometimes you do more harm than good by, you know, checking things are doing some proactive measure that doesn't need to be done sometimes. Sometimes cause more problems than you cure.

Colpo: You sound like you've worked in the industry.

The lifecycle of some multimillion dollar valves and upstream impacts is about 10 operations, and you're required by law to test them. So, you might actually have only five operations in real life because you've wasted five testing. So, you're spot on.

Just completing level two here. So yeah, so this is where we begin sort of beginning to integrate operations, the different sort of disciplines and maybe looking at sharing some of that between assets, there's a workforce, saying that it's aging, and it's difficult to replace people with know-how. So, you're going to look at implementing some some OT and IT that can help with some of that collaboration, and multi skilling, and so on. So, yeah, moving on.

So, level three, we've got remote operation. So, here's where we begin to seriously look at transforming our assets. So, we take the, you know, every asset will have its own control room. So, here's where we seriously say, well, a lot of people are going to have a good improvement life, because they're not going to have to go out to this so long, as I said, we're going to stretch that control room and bring it all the way into town. We're going to operate that asset, we're going to operate other assets from that remote operation center. And we've got some great technology for that in Experion. And what that allows is to bring the staff in close. They can live closer to home, spend less time on the road, and they can be involved, your staff can be involved in operating several assets. So, 

Larson: I expect the pandemic certainly accelerated development and acceptance of those technologies to, yeah?

Colpo: Yes, exactly. We've seen we've seen, I guess even in everyone's workplace, remote operation has just become the norm. What I want to say about this level is it sounds advanced, and it sounds like it needs IoT and all that. But in fact, that level of remote operations has been quite common with many of our progressive upstream customers for some time. So, it's been very achievable and it really sort of leaves a lot of good stuff yet to come, because, you know, IoT is quite amazing and has sort of revolutionized how things can be done, and we haven't even begun to use that. So yeah.

So, moving on to level number four. So, this is the level we're looking at sort of resilience, looking at improving fault tolerance, so that the asset and equipment in remains, which has been simplified, the typically there are no or fewer people around if there are people around and there's experts and so on. So, it needs to be self healing and fault tolerant. And there are great technologies that have come out of the IoT or industry version 4.0 sort of paradigm or revolution. So, this is where cloud, remote sensing, all that sort of stuff gets involved.

Larson: I would imagine even this, the IO hive and control hive principles, where you can have distributed backups that the switchover automatically can fill in for each other. That's nothing. You don't need somebody there on-site to shepherd that in.

Colpo: Yeah, yeah, that abstraction between the sort of physical things and then sort of virtual avatar has been a really powerful enabler of learning, improving the fault tolerance of everything, but being able to remove this sort of track of where things are located. Things can be done from anywhere, anything can be done from anywhere these days, control, operations, human interactions.

Larson: Just a change a paradigm. It's gonna take everybody a little, little while to get used to it.

Colpo: And it's working. 

Larson: It does. Yeah, it's great.

Colpo: And then finally, finally, level five autonomous. So yeah, it's true, like not everything is has been solved yet. We've got some use cases for the drones and robots and most upstream players are piloting but it's exciting. Some of this is already achievable, and it's, and it's only going to evolve. So, as soon as we think we got down how we're going to use robotics and drones and machine learning now, so based on artificial intelligence, as soon as we think we get there I think the prize is going to move on us. I probably spoke a bit too long.

Larson: No, that's okay. That's good. I really think that the oil and gas majors and a lot of the progressive companies that have really paved the way on this autonomy maturity model, and yet they're also under perhaps the most scrutiny around sustainability. What, what lessons can other other industry players learn from the examples or the lessons being learned by oil and gas companies? What are the key strategies that they should adopt first? I mean, what lessons would you recommend?

Colpo: Yeah. I think much of what we've discussed can be applied across other industry. So, this might be a sort of conventional power generation, steel, or cement. So, you've got possibly 7% of greenhouse gas emissions just in mostly industry alone. Yeah, so concepts like remote operations and integrated operations have been the same people have in common in oil and gas for some time, but those same concepts can apply to these industries. And that will lead to the same reduced costs in operations. So again, it can be done early. There are no dependents or fewer dependencies and some of the other abatement strategies and can provide cash flow positive cash flow much sooner than the more radical amendment that we discussed.

Larson: Great. Well, thanks so much, John, for sharing your perspective with us today. It's been thought provoking and a real pleasure. Once again, my guest today has been jump done couple responsible for global marketing and strategy lead for Honeywell process solutions, oil and gas business. So thank you all for tuning in. And thanks to Honeywell for sponsoring this episode.

My name is Keith Larson, and you've been listening to a Control Amplified podcast. And if you've enjoyed this episode, you can subscribe at the iTunes Store and Google podcasts. Plus, you can find the full archive of past episodes at Signing off until next time.

It's really such a pleasure to have you here in person. It's more fun to do this in person. The next one will do over beer.

Colpo: All right.

For more, tune into Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast.

About the Author

Control Amplified: | Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast

The Control Amplified Podcast offers in-depth interviews and discussions with industry experts about important topics in the process control and automation field, and goes beyond Control's print and online coverage to explore underlying issues affecting users, system integrators, suppliers and others in these industries.

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